* Posts by Bryan Reed

14 posts • joined 13 Mar 2007

National Safety Council seeks total* cell-phone driving ban

Bryan Reed

Nanny state? Are you serious?

The "nanny state" comment totally misses the point.

I don't care if someone does something stupid and gets hurt. I do care if someone does something stupid and hurts other people. As someone who bicycles on city streets and frequently has to slam on the brakes to avoid getting crushed under the vehicles of morons talking on the phone, I applaud this development.

Satanic net neologisms - nominations invited

Bryan Reed

Every word started out as a neologism

Eddie Edwards made some good points. Language evolves. Deal with it. Some people will have fun with it in an original way. Other people with less imagination will latch onto the latest "cool" phrases to look clever. This serves as a useful mechanism for identifying dull people, who would otherwise have to wear special hats or something. But practically every word we use sounded funny when it was first introduced.

Try going back and reading the folks from a few hundred years ago complaining about the evolution of the language. It's pretty funny! Practically all the neologisms they complain about either quietly died out or became perfectly ordinary words that no one would object to. One that stuck in my mind (assuming I remember correctly!) is the shortening of "attemptate" to the modern word "attempt." If someone said "attemptate" today they'd sound quite bizarre! The newer form is clearly more efficient, but when it first came out, people screamed about how horribly illiterate it was.

If there weren't new words popping up that were on the edge of respectability, then the language will have stagnated, and I think that that would be a very sad thing.

Microsoft: Windows 7 ready for Christmas 2009

Bryan Reed

Here we go again!

Personally, I'm still looking for why I should upgrade from 2000. Well, actually, I guess I already did, to 10.5. But that's another story. My windows machine is set up running 2000 in a stable, reasonably clean, configuration. They only thing I can't run that I wish I could is the netflix streaming video application. Are there any features released in the past 8 years (8 YEARS! In the computer industry!) that are worth the trouble of reformatting the hard drive and reinstalling everything from scratch? Because experience shows that that's what it takes; the upgrade-in-place option leaves a mess. My work is "upgrading" all machines to the latest version of office, so I'm looking forward to the usual headaches in that department, while the old bugs still won't have been fixed.

Also, how is this Windows 7? 95 was 4. Vista was presumably 6. So what are 98, 98SE, ME, 2000, and XP? 4.1, 4.2, 4.3, 5, and 5.1? Actually, I guess that's plausible, now that I think of it.

Microsoft pledges to fight Vista 'myths'

Bryan Reed

Never even bothered to get XP, myself

And why not? Because I just never encountered a reason to. I'm still running 2000 on my windows machine, and the only problem I've had is that I can't watch live videos on netflix. That's it. Everything else works. So . . . why upgrade again?

Microsoft is right in that they completely failed to get out the message of why people should upgrade to Vista. I heard the hype before, during, and after it got introduced, and not once did I hear any actual discussion of what it could do that older versions couldn't do. What I gather is that they redid the DRM and the security, made some changes to the user interface, and greatly restricted the range of hardware that it could run well on. And that's STILL all I've heard about the difference between Vista and XP. If there are any other differences, I can honestly say I've never even heard of them.

Anyway, these days I'm usually on a mac. Which also works. Pretty much the same way, once you get used to the differences in the UI.

IBM clubs nano noise with graphene sandwich

Bryan Reed

A couple of things

"Could it be the same principles that make a faraday cage work?"

Perhaps, in the very general sense that Maxwell's equations and charge conductors are involved. Since this is a quantum system only two atoms thick, the detailed explanation is going to end up being a bit different from any classical model. I'm sure they have some ideas, but I haven't seen the original article yet, so I can't comment on that.

And as for "order of magnitude," in physical science, so far as I've ever encountered (being a professional in the field), it invariably means a factor of ten. If it occasionally means something different to computer scientists, then this is a cultural difference that I (and I expect many other scientists) have never encountered.

In practice, when you say "an order of magnitude," you mean "about a factor of 10." It might be 8 or it might be 11, and this is commonly understood among physical scientists. But when you say "a factor of 10" and it's 8, then people could accuse you of dishonesty. So the two phrases don't mean quite the same thing. One is more precise than the other.

Boffin: Coconut jumbo is millstone in disguise

Bryan Reed

You have to consider the full equation

To Lee: Yes, burning the coconut only releases the carbon that the coconut absorbed as it grew, this is true. But you also have to consider the fuel used for farm machinery that helped to grow, harvest, and process the coconut, the oil used to make petrochemical fertilizers (where does that carbon end up?), the energy used to convert the coconut into a relatively inefficient fuel, and the energy used to transport this fuel to where it's used. Not to mention the CO2 that was released when the land was cleared in the first place (since we have to massively expand our farmland if we want to keep going with this bio-madness).

It depends on whose balance sheet you look at, but from what I've read, you end up having very little net effect (and quite possibly the effect is negative) on the CO2 levels, on the need for oil imports, and on the energy supply.

In other words, it's an enormous, hugely expensive waste of time that causes massive damage to the ecology and to the world's food production capability.

Bio-ethanol production is a technology that is simply not ready for large-scale implementation. Unfortunately, because it sounds good politically and makes it look like you're doing something about the problem, it's gone to large-scale implementation anyway.

And I've seen countless scientific articles explaining this fact, but somehow it's only now just starting to seep into the public consciousness.

Whether other technologies like solar are there yet or not is irrelevant.

Physicists go nuclear with online protest at funding cuts

Bryan Reed


"What's Physics ever done for me anyway?"

I hope you see the irony of using a computer to ask that question?

Governator vows to appeal ruling striking down video game law

Bryan Reed

Simple explanation

"... why, in America, its OK to rate TV programs, movies, video games and music for their sexual content but not, apparently, to rate them for violence. I really, really wish somebody could explain this in a way that makes sense," quoth Martin Gregorie.

If you're looking for a logical explanation, well, I'm afraid I can't help you. But the fact is that we are a violent, sexually repressed culture and have been for a long, long time. People object, not to things that SHOULD make them uncomfortable, but to things that they've LEARNED should make them uncomfortable. It's a reflection of the culture in general; the effect on the media is only a symptom.

Atari's Portfolio: the world's first palmtop

Bryan Reed

Far from the first

Radio Shack made a pocker computer in 1980.

Poland probes gay Teletubbies

Bryan Reed

Sounds familiar

Was this Polish education minister the same fellow who was promoting intelligent design a couple years ago?

Biofuels are the 'next environmental danger'

Bryan Reed

Almost right . . .

To Andrew:

Biofuels would be carbon neutral if we didn't consume any hydrocarbons to grow them. But when you factor in running the farm machinery, supplying petrochemical fertilizer, processing the plants into ethanol, and transporting it, you find that you're consuming very roughly the same amount of petroleum as you're getting ethanol equivalent. At least this seems to be true for current widely-deployed technology, when the plant is corn.

Answers vary a bit depending on whose balance sheet you look at (there are some people who argue that you actually end up behind where you would have been just burning the gasoline in the first place), but even in the best case scenario the whole corn-to-ethanol thing can't possibly do as much good as simply making slightly more efficient cars.

That's not to say that a future more efficient biofuel technology on a well-chosen plant species might not do us a bit of net good, but this business of going whole hog into the corn-to-ethanol trade before solving the most fundamental problem is quite silly.

iPods 'mess with pacemakers'

Bryan Reed

Doesn't that seem bizarre?

Just how badly designed are pacemakers if you can mess with them by putting, up to a foot away, a piece of electronics that's (1) very small, (2) very low power, (3) all low frequency (no radio components in there!), (4) well enough shielded to satisfy government requirements? Think about that! How about your computer that's burning 100 times as much power, has radio-frequency transceivers in it, and is frequently just a couple meters from your chest. Surely that should cause at least as much interference, yes?

Does a wristwatch mess with them too?

Frankly I have to doubt this study just on general physical principles. I'd be truly surprised if a medical device were that hypersensitive. An awful lot of these kinds of studies are very poorly done and full of methodological holes.

Whenever I fly I'm always tempted to turn on my handheld battery operated GPS receiver and see if the plane suddenly swerves out of control.

French succumb to Franglais

Bryan Reed

More about Japanese

Responding to "Japanese is even more broken than French"

An English speaker visiting Japan can read a lot of the signs just by learning katakana and developing a good "reverse Engrish" brain function (e.g. being able to guess that kaado is card). It's actually amazing how well you can get by just knowing that.

But anyway, the Japanese have been doing this sort of thing for a very long time. Their entire writing system was borrowed from the Chinese, after all (often with two or more context-dependent pronunciations per symbol, one derived from Chinese and one from Japanese). Then it was simplified into a phonetic alphabet. Twice. Then augmented with the Latin alphabet. But they still kept the old systems even after introducing the simplifications, and now you see signs with all four writing systems intermixed willy-nilly. I doubt there's many non-native Japanese who ever get really fluent with that stuff!

Corn-fuel demand drives meat off America's plate

Bryan Reed

Corn for fuel is only good for corn growers

Yet another reason why this whole corn-based ethanol thing is a bad idea. Besides the fact that it consumes about the same amount of fuel as it produces (some analysis shows more, some shows less, but even in the best reasonably-likely case the gain is miniscule; the same gain could be had just by making cars slightly more fuel efficient), it also messes up the corn market even more than government subsidies have already messed it up.

Why are corn farmers powerful enough to get subsidies and to lobby for this ridiculous corn-to-ethanol nonsense? Because it's a huge, wealthy industry. Why is it a huge, wealthy industry? Because the farmers are powerful enough to get subsidies.

As a result, we get an economy that doesn't respond to real needs, we get really nasty-tasting soda, we get a lot of research and infrastructure dollars put into corn-ethanol production for no good reason whatever, and to top it all off we get starving people south of the border. All because of a leech-like, self-perpetuating political lobby.

If you're going to make biofuel, use another plant, PLEASE!


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